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What are things you say casually to curb bad behavior in relationships?
September 3, 2013 10:45 AM   Subscribe

For example an acquaintance has mentioned a mistake I made that is starting to make me feel embarrassed. I wasn't embarrassed until she mentioned it jokingly a few times. Nonetheless I became annoyed and would like to say 'stop it' gently enough so that we can still get to know each other but want to nip this kind of comment in the bud or at least let her know I don't like excessive teasing or sarcasm aimed at me.

The mistake and joking comments are small enough that an actual conversation would be heavy-handed but big enough that they're like little jabs that will make me avoid her after a few more interactions like this.

I witnessed this successfully when a friend would make sarcastic remarks to another and said 'wow you just keep crushing me' and delivered it with a chuckle. What sayings, casual comments, jokes etc. do you guys use?
posted by PeaPod to Human Relations (36 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Hey, I know that was funny in the past, but now that you've said it over and over it's really lost its charm. Let it go, please."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:56 AM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Say you used your salad fork with your entree (clutch the pearls). The next time she brings it up, chuckle and say "I get it, I get it--I was raised in a barn. But now that we've got that agreed, let's move on, OK?" Adapt as necessary for whatever faux pas you made.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:59 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


These types of "jokes" aren't really jokes. They're usually a crude way to always make sure you know your place. People who employ embarrassment as a tactic to make themselves feel superior generally don't make good friends.

I'd go with something like, "It sounds like your favorite thing about me is [that mistake]! You can't stop yourself from bringing it up."
posted by quince at 11:00 AM on September 3, 2013 [38 favorites]


I find "Can we not do that anymore?" is a nice mild way of asking someone to stop a repetitive annoying behavior.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:02 AM on September 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


"Yes, so you've said."
"Would you like to do it?"
"Ouch! No need for the jabs."
"I know, I'm such a philistine."
"I'm ok with being imperfect."
"The perfect is the enemy of the good."

But being honest (without, like you say, a big drama-conversation about it) is the best approach to this kind of thing: "You've said that a few times now. It's a bit ouchy to hear the jabs...I'd much rather have you show me how to do it right instead. Do you have a few minutes?"
posted by headnsouth at 11:05 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a friend in college who was pretty bad about interrupting people to make a point. After a while some of his social circle instituted ringing an imaginary bell ("ding ding!") whenever he would do this. It worked out okay and he was good-natured about it, but I obviously don't know whether your acquaintance would take it well or not.

I've had good luck with the single, deadpan repetition of what they said. "That's right. I did it because I hate the earth." And then no further engagement on the topic.
posted by gauche at 11:08 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


These types of "jokes" aren't really jokes. They're usually a crude way to always make sure you know your place. People who employ embarrassment as a tactic to make themselves feel superior generally don't make good friends.

Sometimes. Sometimes, they are the ribbing and teasing that signals endearment.

Like anything, it can sometimes get to be a bit much - I usually just say something along the lines of "Yeah, I screwed that up. Can we talk about something else, now?" to signal that I'm done with it.

Sometimes, I change the subject by trash talking back, or whatever.

I'd advise against taking it personally - in my experience this is the sort of thing they would never say to someone they dislike or disrespect, so what they are signalling is that they like you.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:09 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Friend: "Hey remember that time you fell on your ass in the middle of the street? Haha!"
You: "Hey remember that time you made the same lame joke about me falling like 20 times and it wasn't funny anymore? Haha!"
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:18 AM on September 3, 2013 [25 favorites]


I would probably say something along the lines of, "Enough with the [whatever you did] digs, okay? I've reached my threshold." or "Please stop bringing that up. It isn't funny to me anymore."

Honestly, I usually just say point blank that I'm over it and to please cut it out. In my experience gentle/subtle hints to a person to stop a behaviour never work. And seriously dude, you said that if she does it a few more times you are going to avoid hanging out with her again. You're ready to walk away from the friendship, but you aren't able to make things a teensy bit awkward for a couple minutes by telling her that she needs to stop bringing up a particular topic?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:19 AM on September 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I just got out of a relationship where a very similar behavior (and the absolute unwillingness to change this behavior) should've been one of the early warning signs. I tried asking her to stop, I tried suggesting alternate nicknames, I tried simply hanging up or walking away the instant it "slipped" out.

I didn't realize how big a deal it was until we broke up, and I felt this amazing relief at being able to go through a day, nay, a whole WEEK, without being called [pet vicious snub].

In your case, if she doesn't take the hint, and if she doesn't take a direct and specific and clear request, read the writing on the disrespectful wall, and just plain run. Nobody needs to feel like that all the time.
posted by Myself at 11:21 AM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw a friend handle a situation like this masterfully. She said, "Yep, you mentioned that. Got it." Her speech was just (barely) this side of clipped, but she was polite. Maybe something short like that could be inserted into a conversation when she brings up The Thing. Let her know, decisively, that you've heard her and you'd like to be finished hearing about it.
posted by heathergirl at 11:22 AM on September 3, 2013 [20 favorites]


I second "Can we not do that anymore?"

I have found that this can sometimes lead to defensive comments like "don't be so sensitive!" or "I was just teasing!" Where the conversation goes past that is up to you, but, if the response doesn't come down to "yes, okay" (or how it comes down to that) consider that food for thought going forward.
posted by sm1tten at 11:25 AM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


A friend I had a long time ago, with whom I had a comfortable relationship where we could tease each other a lot, would let me know if I had hit a sensitive spot by saying "Ow, bad teasing!" It was a good, non-confrontational way to show me where her boundaries were without derailing the tone of the conversation, and I took it to heart. Since being with my spouse, I use this phrase with him, and it works swimmingly.
posted by matildaben at 11:27 AM on September 3, 2013 [28 favorites]


Ding Training.
That is all.
posted by flabdablet at 11:37 AM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Right after they say it (i.e., not a new conversation): "I know you don't mean anything by it but actually that's hurting my feelings so would you please stop?"

It's heavy enough to be taken seriously but leaves them the out of "sorry man I didn't realize". If they ignore you and keep jabbing anyway, then they're a jerk and everyone knows it.

If you suspect they are doing it deliberately, use the same line but with imaginary quotes around "don't mean anything by it".
posted by teremala at 11:45 AM on September 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


"I know you are joking when you say [X], but I am extremely sensitive about that topic because of [previous bad experiences]. When you joke about it, it really hurts my feelings, even though I know you don't intend it that way. Please stop."

After that initial conversation with one of my closest friends, whenever she makes a joke that sort of verges on the problem area, I tell her it hits a little too close to home, and she says "oh, sorry!" and then we both move on.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:56 AM on September 3, 2013


Don't get into a conversation about your feelings or say a long explanation. Someone trying to be nice will be really embarrassed if you drag it out, and someone trying to make you feel bad will have more ammunition.

"I'm kinda done with that" in the same tone you'd use to say you're bored of eating at a certain restaurant or tired of wearing jeggings.

Then an immediate change of topic. Don't give them time to respond. They don't need to respond, they just need to not do it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Perhaps something like "Ugh, that was soooo six months ago. Got any new material?"
posted by quixotictic at 12:07 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or, "Bored now." Everybody knows that, plus, it's slightly threatening.
posted by glasseyes at 12:08 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spray bottle, accompanied by a firm 'No.'

OK, probably not; but then again, if delivered in a light-hearted spirit, someone with the right sense of humor and demeanor might get your point without it turning into a big, serious 'thing'.
posted by fikri at 1:28 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I actually did this to a friend- I'm from a background with slightly more pointed teasing and ...anyway, my friend basically said "please stop doing that" and she might have added "you're hurting my feelings". I was taken aback, felt very bad, apologized and didn't do it again- to her anyway!! A level calm direct approach can definitely work.
posted by bquarters at 1:28 PM on September 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look embarrassed or uncomfortable. They should have enough social sense to back off or start fumbling an apology.

I advise against making it a "thing" by over addressing it, like some people have suggested above. That just sets up bad relationship dynamics.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:50 PM on September 3, 2013


For me, it would depend on a lot of factors. If it really does come from some need to put you down, that requires a different response than if it comes from misguided attempts to express affection.

If it is a put down, you may be better off disengaging, giving them no satisfaction. Depending on how toxic they are, there may be no good response. If they are hellbent on putting you in your place, telling them in any way, even gently and indirectly, that it bothers you will likely just egg them on. So don't do that unless you think they aren't really an asshole, just a fallible person with foibles. Giving an imperfect person such feedback is sometimes a growth opportunity for them. Giving an asshole such feedback is usually a good way to become their bitch. So rather than say something, perhaps saying nothing and maybe raising an eyebrow instead will help.

If it is an attempt to express affection of the pull-your-pigtails-as-an-excuse-to-touch-your-hair variety, it again depends on just how neurotic they are. Some people just do not know what else to do. In those cases, modeling other ways to express fondness, respect, admiration, etc without getting into weird crush-like behavior can help. You can try to give them another means to "reach out and touch" you that doesn't sting. Sometimes people respond well to that. Try thanking or praising them for some behavior you do like while being nonplussed over this particular behavior. (If they are seriously, severely messed up, there may be just no right answer. So I am hoping/assuming minor problems here.) The thing you witnessed where the person said "you just keep crushing on me!" strikes me as a situation where that likely hit too close to home. Their crush was acknowledged and harmlessly outed and they decided to do the prudent thing and sweep it under the rug, thus they stopped rather than full on confess.

Fwiw: My mother, who has a heart of gold, also has a few toxic bad habits from an unfortunate past. When she was cattily trying to shame my son into not shaving his head again after he got home from the barber with a freshly shaved head, she said in a 'joking' tone "What prison did you escape from?" My ASD son was honestly oblivious to the ugly, manipulative intent behind her remark. The second time she said it, he rolled his eyes and said "Grandma, that wasn't very funny the first time. You need to get new material." She not only never did it again, she looked at him in horror and largely stopped speaking to him.
posted by Michele in California at 1:56 PM on September 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've had success with miming removing a knife to the chest and saying something along the lines of "hey, is this Pick on RP Day AGAIN? This is the gazilionth time you've brought that up."
posted by rpfields at 2:18 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always advocate for honest and direct. The goal is here not a snappy zinger or insulting someone else and continuing the cycle. I just say, "Hey, I know it's pretty funny, but it actually hurts my feelings a little, could you not bring it up anymore?" It's usually super effective. If I get the old "oh you're so sensitive!" or "I was just teasing!" routine, then I just say, "Maybe I am/I know you were, but I don't like it, and I'm asking you not to do it in the future."

It sets the right tone, i.e respectful, sincere.
posted by smoke at 3:22 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Be honest and direct and avoid the Royal "we" - it would make me feel like a preschooler to hear something like "Can we not do that anymore?"
posted by analog at 4:46 PM on September 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


If it is a put down, you may be better off disengaging, giving them no satisfaction. Depending on how toxic they are, there may be no good response. If they are hellbent on putting you in your place, telling them in any way, even gently and indirectly, that it bothers you will likely just egg them on.

I agree, watch out for this. When someone who was once a friend started firing snarky jabs disguised as jokes at me, I just laughed and never let on that I was bothered. As far as anyone knew, this person had no power over me. The friend eventually dropped it when they couldn't get the reaction they wanted.

Of course I was upset and hurt on the inside, but in the long run it was totally worth it to maintain a cheerful, unassailable demeanor while my friend got increasingly desperate and ridiculous in their attempts to tear me down. It became more funny and less hurtful as it went on, until it was just funny. By this time I didn't have to pretend anymore that I wasn't bothered, and started feeling sorry for the friend instead.

If you want the ribbing to stop right away, then my suggestion won't help. If your friend is just trying to tease you and inadvertently took it too far, then laughing will only encourage your friend to keep up the jokes. But! If it's a situation like Michele described, giving your friend zero satisfaction will ensure that they never target you again.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:49 PM on September 3, 2013


you've gotten lots of good responses to say, so i just want to add that this behavior may be a red flag for a friendship with this person. hopefully, this person could be a friend but i'd say the jury is still out.
posted by wildflower at 5:34 PM on September 3, 2013


I would look bored, and say something like "Yes, you've said that before".
posted by Bradfordian at 5:51 PM on September 3, 2013


I go with "Yes, yes, I think we can let one go now, alright?" Works around here.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:53 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the great responses. In case anyone is still reading/responding, I should clarify: I've only hung out with this woman 3 times and seems a bit nervous because she's new to the city trying to make friends. Jury is still out on who she'll be but I want to give her the benefit of the doubt and also learn a new way to establish boundaries.
posted by PeaPod at 6:39 PM on September 3, 2013


"Oh man. Yeah. Frankly I'm kind of embarassed about it... But you're just getting to know me! Just wait til I wow you with my [petty foible such as "lack of cooking skills" or "typos extraordinaire" or "disco-era dance moves"] -- then you'll have a joke we can all laugh about."
posted by samthemander at 8:24 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's good to know. Don't let it become a bad habit for her, like a meme in the relationship. She may be harping on it because she doesn't know enough about you to say anything else. Lots of people struggle with meeting new people, but are fine once you know them. I would try to give her a new touchstone to refer to and help her move on from it. Is there some other shared experience you can make into a handy reference? Say something like "Hey, that's not really what I want to be remembered for. I would rather you remember me for (new thing you would rather she focus on). How goes your efforts to get settled in?"
posted by Michele in California at 8:44 PM on September 3, 2013


Ugh, these people can be the worst. I have used with reasonably good effect a combination of a groan, an exaggerated eye roll, and a "duuuude, that AGAIN?"
posted by Pomo at 10:03 PM on September 3, 2013


In a way, teasing can be a good sign because, well, I know I never tease people I don't like, or if I think they have no sense of humor.

And I get teased at work, but usually take it in stride. If it gets exasperating, I might show frustration just out of habit (eg, close eyes and deeply inhale/exhale). Nothing direct or hostile, maybe do it with humor, but it should be enough for them to get a hint for next time.

I'd think (unsubtle) body language would make them feel less guilty than verbally protesting, esp if it makes them feel stupid that they didn't know this whole time. Then, preferably, change the subject to something more pleasant. Leave things on a good note so they're not on eggshells.

Also, it's different when it's someone you've known a while. With someone new, each interaction is bigger in proportion, so your "Knock it off already" becomes her "She hates me."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:19 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've only hung out with this woman 3 times and seems a bit nervous because she's new to the city trying to make friends.

And yet, she
has mentioned a mistake I made that is starting to make me feel embarrassed. I wasn't embarrassed until she mentioned it jokingly a few times.

If she's trying to make friends, she's mucking it up pretty well in your case. If you believe it's due to nerves on her part you can give her the benefit of the doubt by saying with a smile, "Why don't we let that go." If it continues, you might want to rethink whether you want to puruse a friendship with her.
posted by Dolley at 6:20 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


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